—Marc V. Schanz
February 22, 2008— A key part of prosecuting the homeland defense mission effectively is being prepared for contingencies—and coordinating with local officials and other government entities in advance, said Air Force Gen. Victor Renuart Jr., commander of NORAD and US Northern Command, Feb. 21 at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando. And, he said, despite the relative low profile of the effort compared to the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, Operation Noble Eagle, the US air defense mission, continues at a robust rate.
Renuart said that more than 48,500 ONE sorties have been flown since September 2001, giving credit to 1st Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Hank Morrow. Air Forces Northern/1st Air Force has 40 fighters, primarily Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command, on alert at 20 locations across the country and every day at least one aircraft scrambles to intercept suspicious aircraft approaching North American airspace or straying into restricted airspace.
The heightened homeland defense mission is adding greatly to the flying-hour toll for USAF’s aging fleets of F-15s and F-16s. And, because of the slow acquisition pace for new fifth-generation fighters, Renuart said he wants to advance a strategic basing plan for homeland defense missions that he called a “four corners” strategy. It would base F-22s and F-35s at strategic points across the country where they are needed, said Renuart, to apply their advanced sensors and high speed to respond to gaps when and where they pop up. The basing for the new fighters will become more important as F-15s and F-16s ease out of the inventory, he said.
On the subject of the renewed Russian bomber patrols, Renuart told reporters after his remarks, that he doesn’t stay up at night worrying about the bombers coming over the horizon to attack American cities, but he is concerned about the flight coming up to the edges of North American airspace—with no warning.
“They are conducting legitimate training missions,” Renuart said, but noted that the Russians are not filing flight plans as per International Civil Aviation Organization rules. And, he said that the airspace along the polar routes under his jurisdiction is becoming more heavily trafficked by civilian airliners, a fact that gives him some “concern” for potential collisions. Recently Russia has been good about announcing where exercises will be held and what bases will be flying air assets, but patrol flight plans are still not on the books.
Renuart said he hopes to visit Russia in the spring—his first trip to the country—to meet with senior aviation officials and planners to work something out. In the past, he’s had good interactions with Russian officials, so he expressed confidence that the level of cooperation will get better in the future. As he said, “We will build these relationships over time.”
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